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Working at the CIA: Fact or Fiction (Part 2)

In order to be successful in protecting the nation, much of the work of the CIA must remain secret. Some might guess that the life of an Agency employee would be one big secret as well. This could not be further from the truth. The Agency promotes a family-friendly work environment and always strives to find the right work/life balance.

Meet CIA officers Grant, Brian, Jaime, Rosemary, and Tara. In this article, they’ll share their insights and talk about what it’s like to be an Agency employee. This story is the second in a series designed to debunk some myths and misconceptions about working at the CIA.


Fact or Fiction: You Will Never See Your Family and Friends Again

Grant: The Agency did not ask me to give up any aspect of my family relations. In fact, it was quite the contrary. The Agency promotes a family-friendly environment and it has been my experience that managers, for the most part, encourage officers to take time for their families because happy families mean happy and more effective officers. Not only do I see my family every day, I make it a point to see them every day.

Brian: Outside of work, the job looks like just another job — you'll still see your friends and certainly family. There will be times when you're busy — after 9/11, I worked seven days a week for three months — but at CIA, if you're working like it's a national emergency, it probably is a national emergency.

Tara: When I joined the Agency, I thought I'd have to distance myself from my family and friends. It turned out to be quite the opposite. The Agency does its best to ensure its officers find a work/life balance.

Rosemary: Not true. My family members are all in Pennsylvania, and I see them all several times a year, plus they have visited me for Family Day.


Fact or Fiction: You May Have To Spy on Your Family

Grant: The United States is not a police state and the Agency not only does not support such action, it is forbidden for the Agency to target a U.S. citizen. In my 10 years as an NCS officer, I have never been asked or directed to spy on my family or friends and report on their activities. The only time I “spy” on my family is when we are playing hide-and-seek or when I am seeing if my children are sneaking cookies from the kitchen after they were told ‘no more!’

Tara: The Agency values diversity in its officers and no matter your background, will never ask any officer to spy on their family, friends, or acquaintances.


Fact or Fiction: Your Family Will Never Know Where You Are

Grant: There are times when I have served in the field when my family does not know where I am or what I am doing. This is because the nature of the work is designed to protect sources and methods, not to keep my location secret from my family. For example, when I served in the field, I was often out during evening hours and could not tell my family my exact location for security reasons, but my wife always knew who to contact at work — who did know where I was — if there was a problem or if I did not show up when I said I’d be home.

Brian: In my 18 years here, I've always had a desk and phone number where my family could reach me, and they always knew exactly where my office was, even if they couldn't just drop in.

Jaime: For the most part, I've been able to let witting family members know about the places I've travelled.  Special circumstances, however, have necessitated being more discreet with unwitting relatives and friends.

Tara: For the most part, officers are able to be open with their family about upcoming travel and in some cases, will even get to accompany them on the longer assignments.  But for those officers who travel to the more dangerous and distant corners of the world, there are intra-Agency support networks for families back home. CIA does everything possible to ensure families never feel isolated and have other Agency spouses and families to turn to.  It's not always easy but the sense of pride and duty to our country make the temporary separations worth it.

Rosemary: Sometimes I do not tell my family where I am going — be it domestic or foreign — because of the nature of the job, but I always let them know the general region (i.e. Europe, Asia, Africa), and I always bring back souvenirs.

Fact or Fiction: You Cannot Tell Your Family What You Do

Grant: This is partly true. There are many parts about my job I cannot share. But this relates to national security and protecting sources and methods and not because I am being “secretive” with them. I have told some family members where I work, especially my wife.

Brian: You can't discuss every detail of what you do, but I've always been able to tell my family what general area I was working on and what I did each day.

Jaime: I've always been able to tell my family generally what issues and geographic areas I follow as part of my work.

Rosemary: This depends on the sensitivity of the job at the time.  My family knows my job title, but not specific projects that I am working.


Fact or Fiction: You Can Never Have a Normal Family Life

Grant: I have served three field tours and my family accompanied me on all three. Two were out of the country and in third world settings, but we had a normal life and enjoyed the different cultures and geographic locations. These tours were great for our children who experienced so many wonderful things. At times, you may not have the creature comforts of home, but my wife and I found we were able to provide essentially the same level of normalcy in each country no matter where we lived.

Brian: Taking my family with me on an overseas tour has been one of the highlights of my career.  Families have experiences overseas they'd never have normally, including for my spouse an invitation to a royal cultural event and weekend trips to different countries, to cite just a few examples from one tour.

Tara: One of the benefits of accepting an overseas post is knowing that in most locations, your family can accompany you. Growing up in a culturally diverse family, I've always wanted to raise my children with exposure to cultures other than their own.  Children have the benefit of attending American schools and have first-hand exposure to life around the world.  What could be better than that?

Rosemary: Normally family will not travel with you on a temporary assignment because it is short-term.  And, family can and often do accompany officers to long-term posts, unless there is a safety reason that they should not go.  Again, it all depends on what you are doing at the time.


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Posted: Nov 04, 2010 10:55 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:41 PM